Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Ex 32:7-11, 13-14
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
2) 1 Tm 1:12-17
Gospel: Lk 15:1-32 or Lk 15:1-10
In one of the best-known called-by-God stories ever, Moses hears God speaking to him from a bush that is on fire and keeps on burning. God directs Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Moses raises objections and then tries to get out of the assignment. God answers the objections, promises Moses help and sends him off to do the job.
Today’s first reading describes a very different conversation between God and Moses.
Moses has led the Israelites out of Egypt. God has been providing them with water and food in the extremely dry Sinai wilderness. As today’s incident begins, Moses has been on a mountaintop for 40 days, receiving plans for how the Israelites are to worship God as they journey to the land he has promised them.
Down below, the Israelites have gotten restless and anxious. Where is Moses? Where is God? To comfort themselves, they have made a golden statue of a bull, which they take as a sign of divine power, and have begun to worship it.
Up on the mountain, God informs Moses of these shenanigans. Step aside, he tells Moses, so that I can vent my anger on the disloyal Israelites. I will get rid of them, God tells Moses, and start over. “I will make of you a great nation.”
An incredible offer! Moses will be a new Noah for the salvation of people, a new Abraham, father of a great nation.
Will Moses accept or decline?
The answer hinges on a deeper question. What does Moses really want as leader of the Israelites? Who is he in leadership for?
Moses refuses God’s offer. First, he points out to God (in verses omitted from our reading) that getting rid of the Israelites would bring God dishonor. Second, it would violate God’s promises to the Israelites’ ancestors.
His responses to God show that, when it comes down to it, he is leading the people because he wants God’s glory to be revealed and he wants God’s people to experience God’s blessings. He’s not in it for himself.
From time to time, we too face situations — in family or work or community or church — that confront us with the question Moses had to answer for himself. Who am I trying to serve here? Whose interests are uppermost? Is my fundamental commitment to myself or to God and other people?
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.